BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The first notes came, appropriately, from Flea, who plucked deep, rumbling sounds from his bass, his body jerking forward as if electrocuted.
Drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer slid into the groove and joined Flea for an adrenaline-coursing jam that segued into “Can’t Stop,” the cue for singer Anthony Kiedis to bound onto the stage and the makeshift ceiling of lights to dip and flare in time to the music.
In their 30-plus-year career, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have excelled at marrying arena rock with elements of punk, jazz and, of course, funk. But they’ve also consistently outrivaled their peers with their fun, sweaty live performances.
Returning to Atlanta Friday night for the first time since a headlining slot at Music Midtown in 2013, the California quartet practically demolished Philips Arena with a concert overflowing with energy and gritty musicianship.
It’s hard to believe that Flea, stripped to his muscular torso, is 54. The kooky musician, who greeted the sold-out, always-standing crowd with a riff about being happy to simmer in the “Southern heat,” frequently went airborne, his heels nearly touching his backside as he romped through “Snow (Hey Oh)” and a credible cover of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
He’s clearly the type of musician who might actually die if denied a stage to roam, so animalistic are his instincts as a performer.
Klinghoffer, an official Chili Pepper since 2009 and the young Jedi of the band at 37, has learned plenty from his bandmates. Whether presenting a clean, arid solo on “The Zephyr Song” or playing so hard that he practically levitated off the stage during his rabid, spinning coda to the new “Go Robot,” Klinghoffer demonstrated admirable versatility.
Kiedis, who shares a birth year and bulging pectorals with Flea, remains an ideal complement to his longtime bandmate. After Flea said he had breakfast Friday at the Silver Skillet, Kiedis joined him in name-dropping various Atlanta cities before turning on a drawl to mimic an old-school fan – “Y’all playing the 688 tonight?” – a reference to the early, early RHCP performances at the legendary ’80s-era Atlanta venue.
While Kiedis, his Super Mario Bros. mustache in fine form, occasionally veered off key (such as on the chorus of “The Zephyr Song”), he mostly sounded robust. His rap-singing on the 2006 rock hit, “Tell Me Baby,” was loose and fluid over the nasty musical backdrop; he just as effortlessly strolled through “Californication” and then turned on his full-rock bellow for the band’s furious, finger-bleeding version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
In addition to the taut musicianship, the Chili Peppers’ live shows – which they began in September and will continue fairly steadily through October to support “The Getaway,” their 11th studio album released last summer – offer a surprising visual feast.
The hundreds of colored lights that bobbed and rolled from an overhead rig, coupled with four vertical video screens behind the stage that beamed artsy shots of the band performing meant there was always something to watch.
But if you weren’t gazing skyward or half-watching the icky cartoon video that accompanied “Sick Love” (giant spiders and childbirth? No thanks, guys.), hopefully you were listening to the monstrous sounds coming from Smith’s drum kit.
Even when a Chili Peppers’ song detoured into blue-eyed soul with a synth humming in the background (“Hey”), the groove was always in focus, thanks to Smith. He steamrolls with the best of them (his work on Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot” prompted some dropped jaws) and slips into the background (“Under the Bridge,” which doesn’t always make the set list cut) when necessary.
A look around the arena confirmed that the Chili Peppers are not only still creating compelling, meaty music, but they’re doing it for a multi-generational audience. That’s a combination that guarantees the words “farewell tour” aren’t in their vocabulary for the near future.